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Mindfulness Meditation: How It Helps with Addiction and Mental Health

Mindfulness Meditation: How It Helps with Addiction and Mental Health

Mindfulness is a meditative practice, a moment-by-moment awareness of what’s happening in our environment and within us in the present moment. By focusing wholly on the present, we avoid obsessing on events in the past or stressing about what might happen in the future.

We all have the ability to be mindful. It doesn’t take great skill or a lot of schooling to master. You can do it anywhere, anytime; at work, at home, or while walking down the street. It does not ask us to change who we are.

Anybody can do it, and there are vast bodies of evidence that suggest that it can help us overcome a lot of issues.

Wherever you go, there you are

Addiction, anxiety, and mental health conditions are things that typically take us away from the present moment. When we are in the throes of one of these disorders, we are consumed with trying to escape the present because it represents discomfort, agitation, and pain.

Paradoxically, by focusing only on the present—on the things you feel within your body and what’s going on around you—it is possible to change how you respond to the discomfort of addiction and mental health issues. Learning how to deal with these feelings can encourage a different way of behaving, too. For example, it may prevent you from reacting impulsively to a stressful situation, helping you trade neutral, non-judgmental thoughts for those that trigger addictive behavior.

This principle is the core of mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is an ancient meditation technique that goes back thousands of years. Though it is practiced in many cultures and religions, the type of mindfulness used in addiction and mental health treatment is most closely related to Buddhist practice. In this culture, it is described as “paying attention purposefully, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

In terms of addiction and mental health, the non-judgmental aspect is key as much of the angst we feel is a direct result of a judgment we have made. Thoughts and sensations themselves do not have judgment attached to them. It’s how you decide to respond to those thoughts that create the judgmental aspect.

If you do not respond to those thoughts, if you choose instead just to notice the sensations without any further acknowledgment, you do not pass judgment. Without judgment, there is no need for anxiety, self-deprecating, or harmful thoughts.

What is mindfulness meditation?

Meditation is used by people from cultures all over the world to bring a sense of peace and calm and to improve various aspects of their lives.

There are meditative aspects in many of the things we do every day, from doing the dishes to enjoying your favorite music. In fact, you may already be practicing mindfulness meditation on some level, even if you don’t realize it.

There are many different types of meditation, but mindfulness meditation places a particular focus on the awareness of oneself and the immediate surroundings.

All types of meditation have a few things in common. In any case, the way you approach it is much the same:

  • Find a quiet, calm environment where you are unlikely to be disturbed
  • Settle yourself in a comfortable position, usually seated
  • Relax your body and mind and release stressful thoughts
  • Use deep breaths to oxygenate your blood

In mindfulness meditation, you are also asked to be fully present and aware of yourself and your surroundings.

You will notice your thoughts, your breath, the temperature of the cool air as it enters your nostrils and the warmth of it as you exhale.

Open your mind to accept thoughts as they come to you.

As thoughts enter your mind, as you feel the sensations on your skin and within your body, you will observe them without judging them. You will accept these thoughts, choosing not to linger on them. Your thoughts are neither good nor bad, right or wrong. They simply are.

During this meditation, you will take inventory of each part of your body and notice how it feels, the sensations as the air passes over it, the pressure of the chair beneath you. You will notice the smells and sounds of what is going on around you and, in many cases, the anxiety and worry that you typically experience will ease.

This is the essence of mindfulness.

Our mind, when left to its own devices, will instantly judge a person or situation as good or bad, fair or unfair, important or unimportant. In many cases, this happens so quickly that our responses are reactive and can sometimes lead us down a dark path.

When we practice mindfulness, we do not allow judgment. We can gain perspective on our thoughts and find the freedom to choose how we proceed.

If the concept of mindfulness meditation is new to you, it might be helpful to start with a guided meditation, like this one:

Mindfulness meditation for mental health conditions and addiction

There is much evidence that mindful meditation can help a range of mental health conditions, including:

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Mood disorders
  • Insomnia

Though mindfulness may not replace frontline therapies for some of these conditions, it can significantly improve clinical outcomes, reduce symptoms, and help to establish coping behaviors that allow other treatments to work more effectively.

One of the other benefits of mindful meditation is that it doesn’t interfere with other treatments and can actually enhance long-term results. It can be practiced at home, at work, or with your therapist. Once you have learned the techniques, you will be able to apply it to any situation, anytime you need it.

Mindfulness for substance abuse and addiction

In recent years, mindfulness training has been studied extensively as an intervention for addictions and addictive behaviors that include smoking, drinking, and various forms of substance abuse.

The outcomes of these studies show that mindful-based interventions (MBIs) can reduce cravings and substance misuse. Better still, approaches like Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention can also work to prevent relapse in the future. Mindfulness staves off destructive thoughts that have the potential to derail your sobriety.

By focusing on the present moment rather than allowing your mind to obsess over a craving, you will effectively, and immediately deflect your response. Continue to practice, and this could be a sustainable method of achieving your recovery goals.

Getting started with mindful meditation

When learning mindful meditation, you may work with a therapist who can guide you through the process. Whether you pick it up quickly or if it takes some time to feel a level of comfort with the process, the results are immediately noticeable. With patience, perseverance, and commitment, the rewards will come. As you become more comfortable with mindfulness, you can incorporate it into everyday life to reduce stress and help you cope with “slippery” situations.

You can begin practicing mindfulness right away simply by taking notice of where you are, what you are doing, and what’s going on around you. The key is to accept these things without judgment and without becoming overwhelmed. If you need a guide, you can find great guided meditations like the YouTube video above, and there are also great apps and podcasts available.

There’s no need to buy anything, and you don’t need a doctor to show you how. Keep in mind that your mind will wander and attempt to hijack your serenity with judgmental thoughts. When these thoughts arise, just go back to your breath; breathe in, breathe out. Just breathe.

If you would like to learn more about mindfulness for addiction and mental health, we would love to help. Reach out today to get started.

Music Therapy: The Rhythm of Healing

Music Therapy: The Rhythm of Healing

The idea of music as a healing force is not new. The ancient Greeks put Apollo, one of their gods, in charge of both music and healing, suggesting that there has long been an understood connection between the two. There are many theories as to why music therapy works. Some studies support the idea that music helps the brain make new connections between nerve cells, and helps organize the firing of nerve cells in the part of the brain responsible for higher functions. Others look at the rhythms of music and feel that we respond to rhythmic repetition, much like our heart, breathing, and brain waves.

What can music therapy do?

The healing power of music is well-documented. It has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression, and also to lessen the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, autism, schizophrenia, and many other psychological disorders.

Additionally, music therapy has been found to improve motor function, communication skills, emotional stability, and the ability to focus. It is considered to be an evidence-based therapeutic approach to mental health treatment, and there are plenty of mainstream studies to back it up.

For example, according to the American Psychological Institute, music therapy should not be thought of as an “alternative therapy” due to the weight of clinical studies that can back the results. These studies prove that music therapy can help patients in the areas of physical health, emotional health, mental health, and also in a social manner.

How music therapy is applied

Depending on the diagnosis and the approach decided on by your therapist, music therapy might involve singing along to music or simply meditating and relaxing as you listen. Various exercises or movements might be performed with music as the catalyst, supporting outcomes that range from improving self-image to improving memory and physical coordination.

Addiction, Drumming and Recovery: How the Beat Brings Healing

At Roots, music therapy not just something we offer, it is woven into the fiber of our program, with several groups a week tapping into the power of music and healing. David Hickman, a UCLA-trained Music Medicine Facilitator, provides a Drumming for Healing group, in which clients are able to use Native American and African drumming rhythms to communicate internal feelings, and support for the peer group. This extremely powerful group has become one of the cornerstones of our program.

Rock to Recovery, founded by veteran guitarist, Wes Geer, employs song writing, and performing and recording as a “band”, to focus on creating a sense of belonging and increasing self-esteem. “…It was when I was in treatment that I realized how much music could help [me] get through those tough emotions that run so rampant, especially in the early days. Being totally sober and dealing with the bottom I had hit, strumming the guitar was the only thing that would bring me peace,” says Geer. The group of professional musicians, who are also in recovery, brings fun into treatment and recovery by offering a natural escape from the fear-based mind.

Music therapy for pain

Music therapy has also proven helpful in managing pain. In one study, cancer patients were split into two groups; one group received talk therapy while the other received music therapy. In the talk therapy group, there was no noticeable reduction in pain, while the music therapy group showed a “statistically significant reduction” in pain scores.

The findings supported the theory that music therapy is a safe and nonpharmacological alternative to pain reduction, even in cases of severe and chronic pain.

Music therapy for depression and anxiety

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy can help patients with a wide range of psychosocial needs. In cases where patients are resistant to other treatments, it has enabled them to develop relationships, communicate emotions, and express ideas that they may not be able to address with words alone.

The stimulation that music provides tends to provoke responses that stem from familiarity, comfort, and feelings of security associated with the music itself.

Drum circle set up for the Drumming for Healing group with David Hickman.

Other mental health outcomes that have been observed through music therapy include:

  • Improved personal relationships
  • Decrease in anxiety/phobias
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Increase in verbalization
  • Better motivation
  • Safe emotional release
  • Reduction in muscle tension

In conclusion, music therapy can be highly beneficial in addressing a range of disorders. It is a safe and evidence-based practice that is effective when integrated into a multidisciplinary approach and supporting other modes of healing therapy like yoga, nutrition, and art therapy.

If you would like to learn more about whether music therapy might be right for you, reach out today to get started.

EMDR: More Than Just Waving a Finger

EMDR: More Than Just Waving a Finger

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a specialized form of integrated therapy. Over the past three decades, it has proven to be highly effective in treating PTSD and trauma disorders as well as many other types of mental health issues.

In some cases, it is used as an adjunct therapy when treating eating disorders, panic attacks, addiction, phobias, sexual dysfunction, anxiety-related issues, and psychological trauma resulting from cancer treatment.

What EMDR is like

The treatment itself is quite involved and will generally take several appointments to complete, months if done correctly. Considered an alternative therapy, it relies on your own eye movements to lessen the emotional impact of traumatic or stressful events.

As you will see from the outline of the phases of EMDR below, the first three phases are done to help you prepare for the actual therapy. A trained, or certified EMDR therapist educated in the best practices of the therapy will spend the majority of the time working with you in these three phases: Planning, Preparation and Assessment.

It is important to keep in mind that EMDR requires that you are properly “resourced”, meaning that you have the supports in place, prior to actually starting the therapy. Resourcing includes finding a support group that you feel a part of, family or loved ones who are supportive of your treatment, a hobby or passion that you enjoy, and anything else that helps you in a positive way. Only once these are in place, will your therapist begin the reprocessing.

During a session, which usually lasts about an hour and a half, your therapist will have you recall the stressful event. You will be asked to include in those memories all the physical and emotional sensations you can remember while they move their finger back and forth before your eyes. Alternative ways to create bilateral stimulation are with handheld buzzers or headphones with alternating sounds.

As the session goes on, they will gradually guide your thoughts to more pleasant memories. At the beginning and at the end of the session, you will be asked to rate your level of distress.

What is EMDR and How Does it Work?

The proof

As it is a relatively recent approach (the initial study was first published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in 1989), it is still gaining momentum. However, there have been many positive results in treating veterans with PTSD.

Some research shows that EMDR is helpful for 77 percent of patients accessing the treatment for PTSD. It has a lower dropout rate than other exposure therapies, and is largely more effective in addressing symptoms.

In terms of supporting research for EMDR, a few things can be concluded:

  • It works better than doing nothing.
  • In many cases, it is more effective than supportive listening.
  • It does not outperform CBT on its own.
  • Other exposure-based treatments have seen similar results.

It is important that EMDR be integrated into a treatment program that addresses all aspects of your unique situation, as it will be much more effective than EMDR therapy on its own.

The EMDR treatment plan

EMDR therapy consists of eight separate phases, usually spread out over 12 therapy sessions, though, as we mentioned above, the first few phases may take longer depending on your unique circumstances.

Phase one: Planning

In the first phase, your therapist will go over your history. You will be asked to talk about the trauma and any traumatic memories that trigger your responses.

Phase two: Preparation

You will then learn stress management techniques, such as mindfulness and deep breathing. These methods will help you cope with traumatic memories when they come up.

Phase three: Assessment

In the third phase, you will be asked to identify specific memories and physical components of those memories that will later be used in the EMDR treatment.

Phase four – seven: Therapy

In phases four through seven, your therapist will begin using EMDR to target the memories you have identified. You will be asked to perform rapid eye movements, either following their finger or triggered by finger taps, music, or other gestures.

The therapist will ask you to recall the trauma and the feelings you have around these events. If you feel overwhelmed or if the memories cause you too much distress, your therapist will bring you back to the present before starting again.

Phase eight: Evaluation

Following each session and at the end of the cycle, you will be asked to assess your progress. Your therapist will also provide their own assessment.

If you struggle with PTSD or trauma, we can help. Reach out today to find out how to get started.

CBT For Depression: The Evidence Behind It

CBT For Depression: The Evidence Behind It

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that has proven to be very effective for people who suffer from mild to moderate depression. In cases of severe depression, it can also be helpful when combined with medication therapy.

What is CBT?

CBT is a course of therapy that focuses on identifying negative thinking and replacing those thoughts with a healthier way of seeing things.

Cognitive therapy begins with an awareness that you are having negative or harmful thoughts. This could be feelings of worthlessness or a tendency to blame yourself and obsess on bad things that have happened to you. Once these thoughts are identified, they are exchanged for more positive ones, leading to a positive change in attitude and behavior.

With practice, these positive actions can lead to healthier ways of thinking and an ease in depression symptoms. In some cases, it can help the patient avoid medication or other, harsher forms of therapy.

CBT can help you in many ways:

  • Helps to manage the symptoms of depression
  • Prevents relapse of major depressive disorders
  • Provides support for medication therapy
  • Gives you the tools to manage stressful and emotional situations
  • Improves relationships through better communication
  • Provides coping techniques for grief
  • Helps overcome psychological effects of trauma and abuse
  • Better management of chronic physical and mental symptoms

Does CBT really work?

Based on research conducted over the past three decades, CBT is considered the current gold standard in psychotherapy. This means that it is the best and most effective therapy currently available. Though there are many other potential avenues to explore in terms of treatment for depression, no other single type of psychotherapy has proven to be superior, especially for depression with co-occurring conditions like substance abuse or chronic pain.

Since CBT is a non-medication therapy, there are no side-effects to worry about. However, you may have to confront thoughts, situations, and experiences that you would prefer to avoid. This, in itself, can be emotionally taxing, but your therapist will work with you to minimize any risk.

Statistically, CBT is effective in treating depression in 50 to 75 percent of cases. Medication alone carries a similar success rate, but there are inherent risks with taking these drugs over the long-term, not the least of which is a high potential for relapse if the drugs are discontinued.

CBT has the lowest relapse rate over all other psychological treatments for depression and anxiety. This makes it a more sustainable approach, especially when combined with other forms of therapy.

Empirical support for CBT

Much research has been conducted to prove the case for CBT in treating depression. As a stand-alone therapy, it has helped many people overcome mild to moderate depression without medication.

When combined with medication and other interventions, CBT improves clinical outcomes for severe depression. It also improves the outlook for recovery from co-occurring conditions like chronic pain, substance abuse disorders, trauma, and PTSD.

No two patients are alike

Roots to Recovery uses CBT in conjunction with individualized treatment plans. We work closely with each of our patients to ensure they are receiving care that is tailored to their unique circumstances. Our ultimate goal is to help you heal and find your way back to a healthy, happy, and productive life.

Reach out today to learn more about CBT and how it can help.

Trauma and PTSD: Why it is Critical to Address These Immediately

Trauma and PTSD: Why it is Critical to Address These Immediately

Recovering from trauma can be a lifelong process. Each situation is as unique as the person experiencing it, and while some may be able to confront their pain and suffering, others are less resilient. For this reason, there is no way to speed the healing.

What is trauma?

Trauma results from a profoundly distressing experience. It could be the result of things that happened to you or from something you witnessed. It could be a result of Adverse Childhood Experience, losing a loved one, a divorce, illness, or losing a job; or it could be the result of a catastrophic event like a hurricane, war, torture, rape, or violent crime.

What is PTSD?

Some of the traumatic events we cited above are quite extreme, some seemingly less so, but they can all have the same effects, depending on the person who struggles with it. Many go on to lead normal lives, largely unaffected by the trauma they experienced, while others may be more vulnerable to the stressors. If this situation continues without treatment, it could become post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The correlation between trauma and PTSD

It is more or less agreed that PTSD is the product of an interaction between the intensity of the trauma and the level of the individual’s personal vulnerability. However, a serious catastrophic event, like a terrorist attack or an extreme weather event, for example, might be enough to produce PTSD in anybody who experienced it – not just the vulnerable.

Symptoms and onset of PTSD

PTSD symptoms may start to manifest themselves within days or weeks of the trauma, but sometimes it takes years to become apparent. Because of its manifestations, it may be challenging to hold down a job, maintain personal relationships, or cope with social situations.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Intrusive, unwanted memories of the event, nightmares, flashbacks, and extreme responses to situations that remind you of the trauma.
  • Avoidance, not wanting to talk about it, avoiding people or places that remind you.
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, and having negative thoughts about others and the world.
  • Loss of interest in the things you love.
  • Emotional numbness.
  • Tough time expressing positive emotions.
  • Changes in physical and emotional responses to situations, like hyper-vigilance, self-destructive behavior, irritability, rage, and often feelings of guilt or shame.

Why it’s important to get help for PTSD right away

The intensity of PTSD may change over time. They may increase with stress, or certain stressors, like if you are reminded of the event. For example, a car may backfire and take you right back to the combat zone. A news item about a violent crime may trigger memories of your experience.

If you or a loved one has been having intense feelings about a traumatic event, if it has lasted for weeks or months, or if there are suicidal thoughts present, you should seek help as soon as possible. Simply avoiding the issue is not the answer – in fact, research has shown that there is a strong correlation between avoidance and the development of PTSD. The sooner you can seek help, the sooner you will feel better.

If you are dealing with trauma or PTSD in Long Beach, reach out today, we are always here to help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depression Symptoms and Therapy

Depression Symptoms and Therapy

Depression can range from mild to severe. For those who struggle with it, it can make life seem empty and devoid of joy. Fortunately, there is help available for depression and many approaches to treating it that have been highly successful for many individuals.

What does therapy for depression entail?

Assessing your depression and receiving a diagnosis is the first step. Your doctor may perform a physical exam and speak to you about your health and family history. Some types of depression can be related to an underlying physical cause, such as hormonal dysfunction, while others can have its roots in your genetic makeup.

To obtain a diagnosis, your doctor may also order blood tests, or have you evaluated by a psychiatrist.

Depression symptoms

Many features may present themselves as a manifestation of your depression. Called specifiers, they are categories that will help your doctor determine the best course of treatment.

Some of these features can include:

  • Anxiety or distress: continually worrying about events or afraid of losing control.
  • Mixed features: mania, characterized by extreme highs, sleeplessness, and increased energy, can sometimes be present along with the depression.
  • Atypical: sleeping too much, increase in appetite, great sensitivity, heavy feeling.
  • Psychosis: accompanied by delusions, hallucinations, and intensely negative feelings towards oneself.
  • Peripartum or postpartum: occurring during pregnancy or after delivery.
  • Seasonal depression: directly related to less exposure to sunlight or seasonal changes.
  • Melancholy: loss of pleasure in doing the things you love, extreme agitation, changes in appetite, feelings of guilt, and feeling sluggish.

Treatment options for depression

Once you have been diagnosed, your doctor will discuss your treatment and therapy options with you.

Medication

Medications can be very effective in treating depression, but we also advocate several adjunct therapies as the combination can hasten recovery and help you feel better faster. Finding the right medication can take a little trial and error. We monitor your progress closely to be sure your medication is working for you.

In addition to medication, we like to suggest therapies that are known to improve results.

These therapies may include:

Psychotherapy

Talking about your condition to a qualified health professional is often a big help. Many specific psychotherapy approaches can be applied, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, or family therapy.

These types of therapies can help you cope with crisis more effectively, better understand and improve your relationships, give you coping skills to deal with stress more effectively, and identify the triggers that lead to a depressive episode.

Lifestyle changes

In addition to your depression treatment, there are many lifestyle changes you can easily make that will offer significant results in terms of mitigating your depression.

To support your recovery and whole-self wellness, we suggest:

  • Get plenty of exercise.
  • Get lots of sleep, seven or eight hours a night is recommended.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol.
  • Eat well, avoid highly processed foods and sugary drinks.
  • Educate yourself about depression and help your loved ones understand what you are going through.

Healing from depression takes time, and we want you to succeed

Above all, stick to your prescribed treatment plan. Do not discontinue medications without the approval of your doctor and don’t skip your appointments, even if you are feeling better.

If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, we want to help. Reach out today and find out how to get started.